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Published September 22, 2023

'Bright side of history': Zelenskyy says Canada's help has saved thousands of lives

By Mia Rabson and Dylan Robertson in Ottawa

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Canada on Friday for promising more military and humanitarian aid to his country while standing with his people in a war against Russia that he says has just one possible conclusion.

"Life and justice must prevail everywhere in Ukraine and for all Ukrainians," Zelenskyy said during an impassioned address to Canada's Parliament in Ottawa, pulling no punches in his condemnation of the Russian assault on his country.

"This Russian aggression must end with our victory. Yes. So that Russia will never bring back genocide to Ukraine and will never ever try to do so. Moscow must lose once and for all, and it will lose."

Zelenskyy, wearing his familiar outfit of olive-green military shirt and pants, said he had no doubt which side of the war Canada would be on because "justice is not an empty word for Canada."

"Another extremely important fact about you is you never, never, ever make a political bet on hatred and enmity," he said. "And you are always on the bright side of history."

Friday marked Zelenskyy's first official visit to Canada since Russian troops began a full-scale assault on Ukraine in February 2022. He first addressed Parliament via video just 20 days after rockets rained down on Kyiv.

At that time, he thanked Canada for its support so far, but pleaded for more.

This time, Zelenskyy said he came in person to thank Canada for what it has done in the 19 months since Russia escalated its 2014 invasion of Crimea into a full-scale war. 

He said Canada has contributed more than $8 billion in support to Ukraine. That has included the provision of air-defence systems, armoured vehicles and artillery shells, as well as the training of Ukrainian soldiers, among other commitments.

"Canada's support for Ukraine with weapons and equipment has allowed us to save thousands of lives," he said.

Zelenskyy said Canada's leadership in sanctions against Russia encouraged others to follow.

He also noted Canada's "strong, 100 per cent" backing of Ukraine's bid to join NATO.

Speaking ahead of Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons that Canada was extending its financial support of Ukraine even further. Trudeau pledged a $650-million multi-year financial commitment, which would give Ukraine more predictable and stable support over the next three years.

That will include 50 new armoured vehicles that will be built in London, Ont.

Canada and Ukraine also updated a trade agreementfirst signed eight years ago. They added services and investment clauses to the deal, in the hopes of helping tosustain Ukraine economically and put it in the best position possible for recovery after the war.

At a news conference with Zelenskyy in Ottawa following their speeches in Parliament, Trudeau said a victory for Ukraine must be a real and lasting peace that does not reward Russia at all.

He said Canadian trainers will also be sent to help Ukrainian pilots and maintenance workers use fighter jets provided by allies.

And Trudeau said Canada will fund mental-health care in Ukraine, acknowledging the tremendous toll the war is having on the mental health of people in that country.

"Ukraine is standing up and fighting and dying for the rules-based order that protects all of us," he said.

He argued those principles hang in the balance on the front lines of Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia's "war of aggression" that targeted all of Ukraine in February last year. 

"If Russia were to win, Canadians in their daily lives, in their grocery bills, in the opportunities they have for the future, would be directly impacted," Trudeau said.

He said while Canada supports Ukraine because of deep ties between the two countries, it also supports Ukraine "because it is the right thing to do."

"It matters around the world," Trudeausaid. "The matter of sovereignty and territorial integrity must and does matter to all countries."

To that end, Zelenskyy asked Ottawa to continue advocating for other countries to endorse Kyiv's peace plan, which calls on Russia to pay for the damage it has inflicted and return all occupied territories. He cited Canada's "powerful relationships" through global economic clubs and its membership in the Francophonie and the Commonwealth.

"There are countries who will be joining on all the points. There are countries who are ready to support only certain points and that is absolutely normal," Zelenskyy said in Ukrainian through an interpreter. "For us, it is important to have as many countries as possible engaged."

Zelenskyy, who was elected president in April 2019, said Trudeau did not raise the prospect of elections in Ukraine with him during their talks.

Ukrainian media have been asking when Zelenskyy should seek another mandate from the public. 

But Zelenskyy said there is not a clear way to allow for elections observers to monitor the process, or a way for soldiers on the front lines or citizens in occupied territories to vote. He has identified the possibility of Russian airstrikes on people turning up at polling stations in large numbers as another concern.

Both leaders reflected on the large number of Canadians with Ukrainian heritage. Many representatives were in the House of Commons for the speech and several Canadian MPs and senators celebrated their own Ukrainian heritage with the clothing they chose to wear to the event.

Zelenskyy noted that while Russia prevented Ukraine from celebrating its history and memorializing the Holodomor, a Soviet-caused famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s, Canada did. In 1983 the first Holodomor memorial was built in Edmonton, he said.

As he ended his speech, he expressed hope that "one day soon" monuments will be built, maybe also again in Edmonton, "to honour the victory of our people in this war." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.

— With files from Mickey Djuric and Sarah Ritchie.

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